Link to art: Fantastic!Sian1359 on AO3
Word Count: 20,736
Pairings: Eliot Spencer/Clint Barton; Nate/Sophie; Tony/Pepper; Natasha Romanoff/Phil Coulson; Parker/Hardison
Warnings: language; a little sex, a little violence
Disclaimer: I don't own them. They belong only to themselves, and the people that created them. This is a figment of my imagination--fiction. No money made. Any mistakes are mine.
Summary: Director Nick Fury had things arranged just how he wanted them. Everyone was tucked up under the SHIELD umbrella, and they were all living happily ever after…or were they? Eliot protects. That's his job. As his Leverage family begins to merge with his Avenger family, it's not the villains causing problems. Will the pressure expose the cracks in Eliot's relationship with Clint, and will it survive? In a game of chess with mortal pawns can Eliot complete his endgame, and how does the Winter Soldier factor in the game?
A/N: Spoilers: Season 5 Leverage: The Rundown Job, The Long Goodbye. Part 2 of The One-Eyed King series.
It had been a week and Pepper was beginning to think she'd dodged the bullet by giving Eliot that thumb drive instead of being an adult and discussing her plan with him. Things had been their normal insanity at the tower with Phil and Eliot and JARVIS working to keep Tony and Bruce on a semi-normal schedule. So when Eliot stepped out of the shadows in the corner of her office, it was a snickering Natasha that caught her StarkPAD and briefcase before they hit the floor. Placing them on the desk while Pepper sputtered, she gave Eliot a peck on the cheek before closing the office door as she left.
Walking over to the sitting area, she poured them both a cup of coffee so she'd have time to pull herself together.
"I don't remember seeing your name on my calendar." Her voice sounded pinched and prim.
The thumb drive landed in her coffee.
"You try to give me Tony like he's a stray puppy and you want to act pissy?" Eliot arched an eyebrow.
"You know how to deal with all the insanity that goes with him being Iron Man…I don't…I can't…not and run a multi-national corporation." She insisted.
"You've been doing it for five years. In fact you may be the one thing keeping him Tony Stark and not Iron Man."
"What?! Wait. You can…have you seen…"
"I've seen a lot, and most of it not fit for human consumption, but I've watched the two of you together. He loves you with everything he's capable of giving."
"He gives a lot." She whispered more to herself than Eliot.
"He 'hides' in his workshop when you're on a trip to avoid his empty bed. He worries about you being kidnapped or worse. He sleeps occasionally when Natasha's traveling with you."
"He doesn't sleep?"
"He does, but only if we gang up on him. He won't sleep in the penthouse though."
"I usually find him and Clint on one of those huge ass couches in the living room 'cause I'm working with Phil and JARVIS has kicked Tony out of his workshop."
Pepper watched Eliot stalk over to the bank of windows. She could see the lines of exhaustion on his face and wondered how many of those lines were caused by her case of cold feet.
"Look I know that as a kid you didn't sit around dreaming about being CEO of Stark Industries and lover to the biggest adrenaline junkie on the planet, but this is what you chose. You're a hell of a woman, Virginia Potts, and any man would be proud to have such a warrior at his side. You've spent the last five years convincing Tony that you love him no matter the craziness. Now when things have fallen into a routine with brief interruptions by aliens, idiots, and assorted megalomaniac assholes, you want out."
Hard blue-grey eyes locked on hers.
"Next Monday at this same time, I'll be here. You will tell me that you truly want to give up Tony. Clint and I will take him, but know that if the day comes when you regret your decision you'll be shit out of luck because we will not give him back."
Without waiting for her answer, he left the office and a gap-mouthed Pepper behind. She continued to stare until the spell was broken by Natasha opening the door.
She pulled up her schedule. There was a lot to think about before next Monday.
"Eliot, Mister Ford has left a message for you to call him." JARVIS informed him as he settled behind his desk.
Checking the time, he wondered if Nate was up early or late.
"Put a call through, please."
"We have a job."
"I'll be there."
Eliot leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. *Dammit!* It was too soon. He didn't have everything in place to cut ties with SHIELD. *Damn Nate his impatient ass.* Possibilities ran through his brain, and none of them were good. He was starting to consider a few painful stunts that would slow Nate down, but he really was not into pain plus Clint would kick his ass for his stupidity with Natasha following behind.
He was saved from his desperate thoughts by his phone. His shoulders tensed when he saw the SHIELD Director's number, but this could actually be the answer to his dilemma.
"You have a mission. Be on the boat in two hours for briefing." Fury barked in his ear.
Retrieving his weapons from the safe, he was considering asking Clint to fly him to the Helicarrier when the archer stuck his head in the door to announce lunch.
"I need to go to meet with Fury. Want to fly me to the carrier?"
"Sure. Coulson wanted to fly out after lunch anyway."
Clint sat at the conference table working on designs for new arrowheads he wanted to try when anger as hot as a phosphorous rolled down his link with Eliot before it disappeared. He saw several of the more 'sensitive' specialists working the command deck flinch, but gave no other sign they'd felt anything. He continued to study his StarkPAD while he prodded his link with Eliot like a sore tooth, but the man wasn't giving him a hint.
When the door opened everyone was suddenly very busy while Hill, Coulson and Eliot filed from Fury's office. He caught Eliot's eye, but a minute shake of the dark head had him closing his files.
"I'll prep the jet."
He looked to Eliot-even though Hill and Coulson held higher rank. The wave of warmth flowing through the link had him moving toward the flight deck.
"I need a moment with AD Hill before we leave."
Phil's expression was bland, but Eliot saw the question in his eyes.
Eliot followed Clint ignoring the twinge of conscious, but Phil had to be kept out of the loop. It didn't matter that the agents considered Coulson family-he was SHIELD to the bone, and would not hesitate to go to Fury with anything he learned.
Settling in the co-pilot's seat after grabbing a quick kiss from Clint, Eliot leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
Sparing a quick glance from his pre-flight, Clint worried over the signs of stress he was seeing in his wolf. He mentally urged Coulson to hurry his ass up so he could get Eliot to the privacy of their rooms.
"Don't fuss, Tawodi." Eliot murmured.
Clint snapped his mouth shut when he heard Phil's feet hit the ramp. If Eliot was resorting to speaking Cherokee then the pressure was building. Coulson spoke a lot of languages-Cherokee was not one of them, but SHIELD had translators who did. One word told Hawkeye there would be very little communication not pertaining to SHIELD business when they were where it could be monitored by someone other than JARVIS.
It was a silent trip back to the city.
Eliot stayed with Clint until the Quinjet was secured asking JARVIS for Tony and Pepper to meet them in Tony's workshop.
"What's got your tail in a twist, Asena?" Tony teased.
"You're going with Pepper on her inspection tour."
"Take your Iron Man photo op suit."
The smirk fell off the billionaire's face.
"What's Fury doing, Spencer?"
"Pushing…testing…he's trying to get a peek at Nate's long game to get 'his' crew away from SHIELD."
"Ford's running a long con?" Clint asked.
"No, but we are. Nate's working on his and Sophie's retirement, which makes for a good diversion. You'll have quite the posse for your world tour of Stark Industries facilities. Clint, Natasha and I are security for the king and queen of multi-national corporations. Phil is going as SHIELD's eyes and ears looking for signs of mutiny. While you're holding court with all the ass kissing sycophants, the one-eyed king wants Parker, Hardison and I looking for something to give him leverage with his bucket list of people he wants dancing to SHIELD's fiddler."
"What kind of bucket list?" Pepper looked pale under her freckles.
"Sources for any and everything he needs to make SHIELD self-sustaining. What good is a king without a kingdom?" He muttered.
"Won't the Council blow his kingdom out of the sky?" Tony asked.
Clint and Eliot both shook their heads.
"I'm not sure if it's a good or bad thing, but you can't get more than two or three of them to agree on any one thing at any one time. Plus Fury's inherited two or three generations of blackmail material from Daddy dearest." Clint added.
"Talk about playing the long game." Tony snarked.
"It's one thing to be the puppet master of the known world. Throw in the appearance of Asgardians and assorted aliens and it's three dimensional chess." Eliot rubbed his hands over his face.
"What about Natasha and Phil?" Pepper asked.
Pain flashed across the handsome faces.
"We love them, but we don't want to make them choose. We'll keep Phil out of the loop, completely I hope, because he's definitely AGENT Coulson, and only tell Natasha the bare bones. She's too good at what she does not to pick up the smallest of clues, but we'll make it clear we don't want to compromise her."
"Does she know what's happening on this trip?" Pepper asked.
"Phil will read her in." Eliot answered. "Now I have to call Nate and tell him he has to put his plans on hold until we get back, and that I'm kidnapping Hardison and Parker."
"Who's night to cook?" Clint asked.
"Dr. Banner and Captain Rogers are preparing dinner." JARVIS informed them.
"Good. I feel the need for a shower. I'm sorry if this screwed up your plans for the week, but there are so many ways this could go bad and only a few good ones. I want to be prepared."
Eliot let Clint push him toward the door only to run into the broad back when Eliot stopped.
"Tony, if you've got some time after supper we need to talk about Hardison."
"You got it Wolfman. Just be happy Fury didn't turn it into an Avenger goodwill tour."
The assassins groaned.
"Tony!" Pepper admonished.
"3…2…1..." Clint counted.
"Eliot, Director Fury is calling."
"After giving it some thought…this would make an excellent opportunity to show off the Initiative. Better cover. AD Coulson will have the revised itinerary in the morning."
"Don't disappointment me, Agent Spencer."
"I'll do my best Director."
With a glare the two men continued out of the workshop. Tony turned to a frowning Pepper.
"It's not my fault." He pleaded. "Besides, it'll be good for team building and all that sort of stuff…" His voice trailed off.
"Let's go see what on the menu." Pepper shook her head as she headed up the stairs.
She knew that voice. It was Tony's epiphany voice. She turned back to where he was standing on the bottom step looking confused.
"Spencer's briefing…he was telling us…oh…people we don't want in Fury's pocket…should JARVIS...are they tracking…"
Pepper waited until Tony's rapid fire brain made all the connections.
"It's already handled?"… "Very discreetly."
"That's good then…"
"Think about Eliot's hacker instead. I know SHIELD's got hackers constantly going at JARVIS…maybe fresh eyes could look at where you think we're vulnerable. We may need all of the protection we can muster when Eliot wins." Pepper prompted.
"You're sure he'll win?"
"Eliot's precognition vs. Fury…my money's on Eliot."
"For now,…you…thinking about what Eliot's thinking in way of limitations for Hardison."
Pepper gave her hips an extra swish as she started up the steps making Tony smile.
Relaxed and full of Bruce and Steve's excellent dinner, Pepper relaxed in one of the overstuffed chairs scattered throughout the room, feet and briefcase on the oversized ottoman, glass of wine on the end table. Across the room Tony and Eliot sat with their heads together, the rest of the Avengers were in the media corner enjoying an evening with no publicity obligations, bad guys or briefings. Music from JARVIS' speakers made a pleasant white noise for combing through departmental progress reports, requisitions, briefings on upcoming meetings-Natasha was an organizational wonder.
That stray thought broke her concentration and had her looking around the room. Phil was discussing mission files with Steve. Natasha leaned against Bruce, who continued to read, while Clint painted her toenails and debated medieval weaponry with Thor. Tony had moved inside Eliot's personal space, the two dark heads so close it was hard to tell them apart. Knowing Tony's reticence for touching, Pepper was surprised to see the genius practically breathing the same air as the retrieval specialist.
Her earlier conversation with Eliot reared its head along with a surge of jealousy. Using gentle touches Eliot had coaxed Tony into his personal space. Pepper was sure Eliot was aware of everything happening in the room while giving the older man his complete attention. Anxiety followed the stab of jealousy. At the rate Eliot was gentling Tony to his touch, there would be no need for her to give Tony away…he would soon be seeking out the two SHIELD agents on his own.
Guilt pricked her conscious. She had been happy for Tony's developing friendship with the other Avengers until the anxiety attacks she experienced over the possibility of Tony dying on a daily basis became unacceptable, and decided Eliot and Clint would make the best caretakers. Her mental gymnastics were interrupted by Tony calling her name.
When she got in arm's reach, she was pulled down in his lap. Wrapping an arm around her waist, Tony showed Pepper the parameters they arranged with JARVIS for allowing Hardison to work with the AI. The bland expression on Eliot's face told Pepper absolutely nothing.
Eliot watched Tony herd Pepper over to the long sofa in front of the television and pulled the strawberry blonde down into the man-eating couch and wrapped around her as tight as he could. Though people didn't equate the name Tony Stark with someone who was especially observant…you didn't survive kidnapping attempts and corporate sharks without being situationally aware.
Tony had given him several raised eyebrows at the extra touching. Keeping his voice low, Tony had bumped their foreheads together and lowered his voice to a whisper.
"You got something you want to tell me, Wolfie?"
"I'm trying to make sure everyone's protected." Eliot looked down at his StarkPAD.
"Is Pepper having a freak out?"
"This world is very different from the corporate world. In my world bleeding red cannot be fixed with an infusion of money."
"I have JARVIS and my suit."
"You have a warrior heart that makes you do heroically stupid things like flying nukes through inter-dimensional portals, and putting other people's safety above your own."
"She's giving up on me."
"Not yet. I gave her some food for thought the other day. She's still working her way through it."
Eliot interrupted him before the thoughts whirling through his scary brain could come out his mouth.
"I have some thoughts I want to share before you freak out over Pepper's freak out."
Tony started to look a little wild, but a gentle hand on the back of his neck settled him. He waited for the genius to nod.
"I know you're still doing the solo gig, and we will talk about that later, but you're also part of a group of very smart and deadly people who trust you, and who need you to trust them. We each have a specific skill set that makes us a well rounded team. If you learn to trust us like we trust you…"
Eliot's words trailed off as Tony pulled back in shock. He trusted them didn't he? His mind replayed the few missions they'd had since the Chitauri, and they'd all worked together fine until one of Steve's orders went against what he wanted to do. Tony had promptly ignored the good Captain and done what he thought was right. The problem had been that he didn't have all the information. His decisions to ignore Steve's orders had caused Eliot to break cover both times to fill the space where Tony should have been-one time protecting Natasha's blind side and another time protecting Tony from his own single-mindedness.
"Oh…uh…okay…I…wow…is there a gift for this type of thing?" He rubbed his hand through his hair making it wilder than usual.
"Just think about it. We ready to show this to Pepper so she's in the loop if JARVIS needs someone and we're not available?"
"Okay. I'm going to pay for this little epiphany the next time we spar aren't I?"
Eliot looked downright ecstatic at the thought.
Nate was staring at the plans he'd been so carefully compiling for the past year. He knew if he asked, his team would be more than happy to point out the flaws in his plan, but he wasn't ready for the reveal. He knew he was pushing…the timing was too tight, and there were still too many details to work out. He didn't know why he'd called Eliot-he did know why. He missed the enforcer. He missed his plain talk and his eye rolls, and he missed having the bridge Eliot provided between him and Sophie with Parker and Hardison. He knew Parker missed Eliot, too. He'd see her ghosting around corners timid with them without the buffer Eliot provided.
Though their relationship was progressing, the thief had become wary, and spent a good portion of their downtime in New York. He was glad things were better between them-the urge to close the book on this part of his life and start anew with Sophie was a sign of his healing. Nate knew he wouldn't feel settled until he could leave the youngest of his Leverage family in a good place.
Parker never gave them details of her time at Avengers Tower. She talked about Eliot cooking, sparring with Black Widow, and running the rooftops with a little breaking and entering across New York City with Hawkeye. Stark had taken the little green robot Hardison built, installed an AI and built it up to handle Parker's rigging. The bot anchored itself where Parker needed, then coiled her ropes into its rebuilt body and took itself back to the van. Parker had threatened Hardison with losing his man bits if he so much as thought about taking the bot apart to reverse engineer Stark's handiwork.
Nate was startled out of his ruminations by the chirp of his phone.
As the mastermind listened to the timetable for The Avengers travels with Stark so he could inspect Stark Industries around the world, he could feel the knots in his stomach unravel. Now he had time for his swan song to be perfect. His attention jerked back to the gravel voice when he heard Hardison and Parker's names.
"I need Hardison and Parker on this one. The trip's a cover for some of Fury's black bag work."
"When do you need them?"
"As soon as they can get to New York."
"You're sure about Hardison"
Nate smiled when he heard Eliot's rusty chuckle.
"I'm sure. Besides this will get them broken in for what comes after."
The older man froze.
"What comes after what?" He hedged.
"The final act of the play before you and Sophie drop the curtain and sail off into the sunset."
"It's fine, Nate. I'll take good care of the kids."
"I never had any doubts though I do worry about Hardison fitting in with the New York family."
"It's been worked out."
"I always knew you should have had my job." Nate said softly.
"I learned from the best, man."
There was a pregnant pause.
"Just get the kids on their way."
The call ended before Nate could gather his wits enough to make a response.
Eliot put Clint and Parker in charge of the team's gear…Steve helped get it to the airport and loaded on SI's big jet. Thor was going to be helping Jane get moved into the Tower, and Bruce didn't think the Other Guy would care for crowds so he was going to help Thor. AD Coulson was handling the logistics of getting the Stark Industries Gulfstream clearance to land at SHIELD airstrips in the countries along their route. Natasha handled all the scheduling for Pepper, Tony and The Avengers.
Clint hadn't been happy about Eliot, Hardison and Parker playing the hired help-moving luggage and equipment from the plane to the hotel, but the three members of the Leverage team needed to stay out of The Avengers spotlight if they were to do their job.
Eliot listened to Clint's mental bitching halfway across the Atlantic. Patience wearing thin with the two bored youngsters and Clint, the enforcer began sending thoughts of relaxation and sleep to Clint. Just as the probability of throwing Parker and Hardison out the cargo hatch became 100%, JARVIS pinged his comm. Pulling out his StarkPAD, there was a file from Tony that had bumped information from SHIELD's files against those Stark considered 'friends' to Stark Industries.
Eliot's expression turned from thunderous to thoughtful. Thankfully, the majority of the lists were people that needed scrutiny, even if it was SHIELD, the remainder gave them the vast array of resources they would need when they separated from the agency. They would have to get the same treatment as the others to keep the Director's suspicions at bay. The 'bad guys list would keep Hardison busy. Eliot kept the 'good' guys.
"Hardison, file coming at you…start the geek thing and get building schematics to Parker ASAP. JARVIS will give assistance as needed."
"JARVIS!? Stark is letting me play with JARVIS?"
Hardison stood about to dance through the plane in geek heaven. Eliot gave the hacker a bump knocking him back in his seat.
"Stark has set parameters which are on your StarkPAD. JARVIS will remind you if you start to color outside the lines." Eliot admonished.
"Still…" Dark eyes danced as his fingers flew over the touch screen.
With Parker and Hardison settled, Eliot turned back to his own logistics nightmare. While The Avengers and the Stark team would be working from a London base, the Leverage crew would be working four sites in Ireland, England and Scotland. He could use Natasha and Clint for London, but it would be just the three of them for the rest. They had ten days.
"Where we going first?" Hardison asked.
"Man, all our jobs should be this easy." Hardison smirked from behind his computer. "OW! Why'd you go and do that?"
His jaw snapped shut when he spun to see the Black Widow standing behind him. She growled something in Russian before moving away.
"JARVIS, old buddy, what'd she say?"
"I'm sorry. Sir does not allow me to translate THOSE words." The AI's tone was dry.
The hacker was set up in their suite while Eliot and Parker made their way out of their last target in Germany. The Leverage team had cleared Fury's list.
"What she meant was," Clint supplied as he started stripping off his uniform, "it's always easy when you're the one on the computer while someone else is doing the heavy lifting." He added his own slap the hacker's skull.
"Did you lie JARVIS?" Hardison asked rubbing his head.
He hoped the assassins were done. The slaps stung.
"I did not. Agent Romanoff's phraseology was much more colorful than Agent Barton's."
The silence on the coms was getting a little unnerving.
"Uh…guys…how we doing?" He asked quietly.
There was no answer, but the next thing he saw were Clint and Natasha back in their battle gear running for the door.
"Guys?" Hardison's voice raised a notch.
"Shut up, Hardison." Clint ordered. "They're working…plan's changed."
Fingers flew as the hacker raced through the cameras in the building. He finally found a room with several men and two women. They all looked like the type of people that would hang with Eliot. He started facial recognition while he worked to turn on the audio.
"We go in as staff…we take Stark and Rogers, get them to the chateau."
"What about the suit?"
"Knock out gas in the room takes care of The Avengers and keeps Stark from activating the suit." A blonde in form fitting black snapped.
"What about the others…they won't all be in the same suite." A man acting as leader of rough looking men asked.
"You're worried about Potts, her accountant, secretary, and some meat head she hired for security?"
Hardison had a name. Gretchen Marx, daughter of the owner, was planning something in the corporate headquarters of MarCom, their last target.
"That's not some meathead. That's Eliot Spencer."
Now another. William Dumas, French mercenary.
"You telling me you're afraid of one man?" Marx sneered.
"When it's Eliot Spencer you bet your ass I am, Chérie." Dumas snarled.
"Fine. I'll double your fee. Does that unknot your shorts?"
"This knock-out gas idea better work or we won't live to spend it."
"I have alerted Sir and Agent Coulson." JARVIS' voice startled Hardison.
Before Hardison could answer the others tumbled in the room.
"Report." Coulson snapped.
"Allow me while you continue monitoring." JARVIS told Hardison.
The suite's TV came to life.
"While Eliot and Miss Parker were reconnoitering the floors of the building searching for additional intel, they happened upon this group in the research labs of the MarCom building. They are planning to kidnap Sir and Captain Rogers, but one of the mercenaries recognized Eliot."
"Why us?" Steve asked.
"Super soldier serum." Hardison and Tony said together.
"Marx is going behind Daddy's back to try and get in good with the Russians and something called The Red Room. Dumas is balking at going up against Eliot." Hardison added.
Coulson grabbed his phone and called Fury.
"Where are Agents Barton and Romanoff?" He asked.
"They ran outta here fifteen minutes ago. Best guess-JARVIS contacted them." Hardison didn't look up from his computer.
The others exchanged a look. If the hacker didn't know about Clint and Eliot's telepathic link, they weren't going to tell him.
"Get packed. I've got the address of a SHIELD safe house." Coulson finished his call to Fury and dialed another.
"I think not." Tony sneered. "JARVIS lock down this floor. No one in or out that you can't ID with facial recognition or isn't vetted by Agent."
"Certainly, Sir." The AI answered.
"Stark…" Phil stated.
"I'm not leaving five-star luxury for a SHIELD safe house. Put your little minions on the stairs and elevators…whatever. We're only here two more days."
"Tony's right, Phil. We still run a multi-national company. We can't run to SHIELD every time someone has a temper tantrum." Pepper reminded.
"Very well." Phil glared as he changed his orders.
Nick Fury leaned back in his chair. Life couldn't be better. The reports and information Spencer was sending him were already reaping benefits, and the call from Coulson about a kidnapping plot against Stark put MarCom right where he wanted them, and would give SHIELD a gold star with Stark Industries' board of directors. With all his pieces on the board and poised to put in play, he needed to flex his muscles…send a reminder to his subjects of who was in charge. He picked up the phone.
"Nate…Nick Fury…I have a situation. With everyone out of the office I need you and Ms. Devereaux to accompany Dr. Banner and Thor on a mission to garner as much information as possible."
"Thor will be acting as your security and Dr. Banner will be your expert since he has the knowledge to ascertain the information's authenticity. Apprise me of when you'll be at the New York SHIELD offices, and I'll set things in motion."
Taking a sip of the expensive single malt, Fury took the time to savor the taste of the aged liquor. His enemies would soon be crushed under his Vibram soled boots and he would traverse his kingdom in his flying fortress. Being the king gets better every day.
Leaning back in his chair, he began to plan how to best place his two teams. Coulson would bring him Black Widow, but he would probably have to put down the Wolf and his Hawk. He could not have wild cards that would incite insurrection…Romanoff would be perfect for the job. Coulson's safety would properly motivate her. In his arrogance, the one-eyed king did not see the teal colored eyes nor hear the whir of the camera that watched and waited.
Eliot preceded Parker through the ductwork. They had the files they needed, but JARVIS had alerted him to activity in another part of the building that warranted their attention. Since they were making their exit from the roof, he wanted to find out what was happening. Two floors from the top of the building sharp ears caught voices coming from the vent opening. He signaled Parker for silence so they could listen while JARVIS kept them apprised of the situation at the hotel.
Satisfied they had all the information they needed, they continued their climb to the roof.
When they dropped off the zip-line, Clint and Natasha were waiting.
"What's the plan?" Clint asked.
"Natasha and Parker will get the hardcopies and computer files to the hotel while you and I go visit an old friend."Eliot gave them a grim smile.
"I…" Parker started before she caught Eliot's eye.
"The Director needs those files ASAP, so Tony and Hardison need to prepare them for secure transmission."
Taking in Parker's mutinous expression, Eliot dropped his voice and stepped between the two women.
"We need to stay on the count to get everyone safe. Dumas is a reasonable man…and if not it'll be a good workout for me and Clint."
"Okay, but you have to let JARVIS film it so I watch it later." Parker brightened.
"There's still something wrong with you." Eliot said fondly as he kissed her forehead. "Go with Nat."
"Last one to hotel is getting old!" She crowed as she ran and jumped onto the building next to MarCom.
Natasha glared at the laughing men before taking off after Parker.
"Hardison, you find where Dumas is staying?" Eliot asked.
"Sending the address now." The hacker answered.
An hour later, a hotel room door opened with six men voicing their complaints to the seventh. They stopped inside the door when the light revealed someone in their suite.
"Hello, Boys." The Wolf and his Hawk smiled.
"Well?!" Tony demanded when Eliot and Clint entered the suite.
"Dumas was extremely reasonable once I pointed out that he could continue his job for Gretchen Marx and die or take the money she'd already paid him and go home."
"Seriously?" Hardison asked. "What kind of mercenary does that?"
"On that lives to take another job." Clint answered.
"You might want to insist Marx's daughter be at your meeting tomorrow." Phil suggested.
A hard glint entered brown eyes.
"Pepper! Do we need MarCom or can we burn it down?" The genius went to track down his CEO.
Clint started to pull his partner to their room when Phil's voice brought them up short.
"We should debrief so I can get the paperwork to SHIELD."
Clint felt Eliot stiffen before he answered.
"Certainly, Assistant Director Coulson. Whatever makes everyone else's life easier. Sleep is highly overrated after all."
Everyone froze at the growl in the retrieval specialist's voice. A pink tint flushed Coulson's cheeks as Clint glared at his former handler.
"Hardison, make sure Parker eats and gets some rest." Clint gave the younger man a stern look.
"You got it, man." He answered quietly.
"I…" Phil looked at the Clint and Alec.
"Coulson! We doing this?" Eliot snapped from where he moved to the dining area of the suite.
Stiffening his spine, Phil turned away from the younger men feeling out of the loop. The easy friendship he had with Eliot, Clint and Tony had become strained. He knew the Director would often task Eliot and Clint with jobs off the books, due to their skill set. Even with his new status as Assistant Director of Special Projects and Operations, there were still things that AD Hill would barely hint at because she was always on guard for Fury making an appearance.
Phil himself didn't like the changes he was seeing in Nick, and speculated on whether the cause was personal or political. He looked at the exhaustion written on Eliot's face and body as he waited and wondered if being out of the loop might be a good thing.
Walking into the conference room At MarCom the next morning, Tony, Pepper and Eliot were met with the sight of Nate, Sophie, Thor and Bruce. Eliot sent a quick thought to Clint, Hardison was soon hacked into their ear buds while shutting out the SHIELD agents in the surveillance van.
"What the fuck, Nate?" Eliot asked under the cover of Tony and Pepper settling at the table.
The mastermind shrugged.
The question got him a brief nod.
"Sitwell, your babysitter?"
"Things happened last night so this is Stark's show. Stay frosty, act shocked and outraged." Eliot warned.
That got him a brief nod from Nate and Sophie.
Before any more could be said Peter Marx sailed into the room with daughter Gretchen behind him smiling like the perfect corporate hostess.
"Ms. Potts…Tony, my old friend, how are you?" The man seemed genuinely happy to see them.
"I'm good…aren't I good?"
He looked at Pepper who rolled her eyes.
"I hope you don't mind, but there are some people who are very interested in investing, but they wanted to meet our number one client before putting forward any of their assets." He turned toward Nate and Sophie.
"That's not something you're going to have to worry about, Peter." Tony's voice turned cold.
"What…what do you mean?" The man looked confused.
"MarCom is being taken over by Stark Industries, and for a very reasonable price I might add. We are giving him a good price?" He looked at Pepper who nodded.
"Why…what are you talking about?"
Eliot shut the conference room door.
"Information has come to my attention of a plot for the kidnapping of one Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, that's me, and one Steve Rogers, or Capsicle as we affectionately call him. Now the perpetrator of this little plot is someone here in this room."
They all watched as Peter Marx looked at Nate, Sophie, Thor and Bruce.
"Mr. Marx, we were given to understand that yours was a reputable company." Sophie stood, adding to the confusion.
She turned to Nate, Thor, and Bruce.
"We will not have our investors' reputation sullied by this sort of scandal." She grabbed her bag and started for the door.
"Wait!" Marx shouted causing Thor to step between him and Sophie. "What if they're the ones that planned the kidnapping?"
"I'm afraid they're not involved, just your daughter and her Barbie doll body guard." Tony stated flatly.
Eliot shuffled them out the door.
"Happy's downstairs. He'll take you to your hotel then bring you back to where we are."
Marx looked at his daughter with shock.
"You did what!?"
'Yeah, seems she was going to give us the Russians." Tony plopped in a chair and threw his feet on the table. "In return for me not turning all my lovely evidence over to Interpol, I'm taking your company and you and your little dim bulb will toddle off into the sunset with enough money to be comfortable if you invest wisely."
"You can't do that!" Gretchen Marx screeched.
Brown eyes narrowed.
"Hey Fenrir, what's the name of the guy you know at Interpol?" Tony pulled out his phone.
"Sterling…James Sterling." Eliot answered.
"This should give his career a boost…daughter of rich industrialist taking the 'perp walk' on conspiracy to commit kidnapping of two of the world's icons..."
"WAIT!"Marx cried out. "Wait." He looked at his daughter. "Did you do this thing?" he asked sadly.
"Yes, Papa, but..." Her tone was petulant.
"Where are your papers?" He looked at Tony.
"The Russians would have given me enough money that we wouldn't need to anyone else." She argued.
"Enough! You have done enough." Marx's voice was cold.
"Ms. Potts, I believe this is your bailiwick." Tony's feet hit the floor. "The takeover team will be here…"
"In two days, but we can start immediately if you'd like." Pepper answered.
"No, two days will give me time..."
The room fell silent as the robust man who walked in the room, brokenly signed away his life's work. As Eliot herded everyone from the room, Tony stopped at the door.
"Get your house in order, Peter and maybe something…else could be arranged."
Once they were at the hotel, Nate and Sophie ambushed Eliot. Coulson had left the suite to take Sitwell's call.
"What's going on?"
Eliot and Clint looked at Natasha. She had been their lover and partner for years, but her heart was now with Assistant Director Coulson. They would not ask her to betray that by involving herself with their plan…there was also the matter of word getting back to Fury if she told Coulson.
"I will do this, but I will protect what is mine." She stated simply.
With acknowledgement of her position, Eliot started his explanation.
"Fury's putting the pieces in place for his endgame."
"Which is…?" Sophie asked.
"Getting in a position where the World Security Council dances to his tune."
"What's his plan?"
"He's using me, Parker and Hardison to gather blackmail material on the Council…the usual stuff. Then something will happen to take us out of play until he has control then we'll be 'rescued' and brought back into the fold unless we're seen as too much of a liability. He'll use Phil to keep the Black Widow in line."
It took a few minutes to get Thor to settle when he heard of Fury's duplicity.
"Asgard will not align itself with one such as he."
"No worries, Fabio, Wolfman has a plan." Tony injected.
Eliot frowned at the grinning genius when all eyes turned back to him.
"Which we'll talk about later. If the probabilities play out, Fury will want Phil to fly back with Jasper. Pepper, are you staying to oversee the takeover of MarCom?"
"Is that the safest place?" Tony asked quickly.
His face got hard.
"You're in enough danger as it is. We see this and we're prepared. I need you to be safe." He squeezed her hand. "Are we leaving Agent and Sitwell here?" He asked Eliot.
"It would keep them out of the fallout."
"JARVIS, inform the Agents that I request they stay with Pepper due to the possibility of retaliation from the Red Room."
"As you wish, Sir."
"Natasha?" Eliot asked.
"Since Pepper will have Coulson and Sitwell, I will stay with you."
It took only moments for a reply from the Agents.
"They are amendable to your request." The AI informed them.
With Pepper's nod of agreement, the billionaire relaxed.
"I love you best." He whispered.
Her heart clenched at his words, her plan to give him up retreating to the back of her mind.
Their conversation stopped when AD Coulson returned to the suite.
Room service had cleared the remains of their evening meal leaving the two teams to get to serious planning. Tony sent Pepper to their room so she could truthfully say she didn't know anything. A final look to the Black Widow giving her one last chance to walk away was met with a stubborn frown.
Not wanting to alert Fury by using any of the aliases Hardison had established for the Leverage crew, Eliot pulled out one that he'd established before SHEILD.
"First thing we'll need are clean ID's." Nate looked around the table.
"We can't use anything I've already made…SHIELD probably has them all flagged." Hardison's tone was mournful.
"Not a problem." Eliot didn't look up from his StarkPAD.
He looked up when Clint returned from their bedroom with a backpack, and started handing out envelopes.
Here's what we're going to do…"
Eliot gave them the bare bones of his plan, so when AD Coulson returned to the suite after checking security on their floor, the two teams were in the process of sorting out sleeping arrangements.
Phil pulled the younger man off to the side.
"Jasper and I are going to stay here with Pepper. The Russians will not be happy at having their plans thwarted." He tapped the screen on his StarkPAD. "I know you can get the team through this last appearance in Rome and back to the States without any international incidents."
"Parker gave me a tazer she conned Tony into improving." He grinned at the older man.
"Excellent strategy." Phil's shoulders relaxed to a more natural line. "Take care of Natasha for me."
"You know I will." Eliot's tone was soothing. "Now you better get to bed before she comes looking."
Phil chuckled. "Good night, Eliot…good luck."
Landing in Rome, Tony sent his plane back to Germany. Their equipment had been settled into normal luggage so there were no raised eyebrows as Eliot checked them into the hotel.
The Leverage team had scattered at the airport. By the time Eliot got to Portland, the final details would be in place for their last job with Nate and Sophie. He pulled Clint tight against his chest causing the archer to grumble. He sent soothing emotions through their bond, settling Clint into a deeper sleep.
Forcing his mind quiet so he could sleep, Eliot knew the curtain was going up on the final act of Fury's power play. The heroes would ride off into the sunset or he would be dead.